China’s latest brainwave will use sensors to tap into workers’ minds

4 May 2018

Image: humphery/Shutterstock

This week in IoT, Chinese companies are expanding the use of brain sensors to monitor workers, while the NSA wants its algorithms to be the global IoT standard.

This week in the internet of things (IoT) sphere saw Nokia attempt to cut costs with the sale of its digital health hardware and service business to Éric Carreel, the co-founder and former chair of Withings.

Nokia acquired Withings two years ago for $191m (€170m) and branched out into various enterprise and consumer IoT devices, including fitness trackers and digital scales devices under its digital health portfolio.

However, the foray showed very little financial pulse and, as such, Nokia was forced to write down $164m (€141m) on its digital health assets.

China leads dystopian fears with brainwave sensors

While most of the world is panicking over what companies have access to their personal data, China is doubling down on its efforts to build a totally connected, always-monitored society.

According to the South China Morning Post, companies across China are turning to brainwave sensors as a means of training workers and to screen their mental fitness.

The official line is that it saves these companies money, but these devices can detect spikes or dips in a person’s emotional activity or even whether they’re awake or not.

One of the state’s electrical suppliers, Zhejiang Electric Power, is one of those using the devices and claims to have seen profits soar by $315m since it started four years ago.

However, there appears to be no regulation governing the use of these devices, sparking fears of what could happen if the headsets are not totally accurate. Could they be used to unfairly demote a worker, or pass information on to the government if a person is deemed a problem?

Watch this space.

NSA wants its algorithms as an IoT standard

Moving from one superpower to another, the NSA in the US is more than eager to tap into the need for a safe standard for IoT by providing its own algorithms as a solution.

With major IoT attacks such as Mirai still fresh in the memory, vendors and developers are trying to reach an agreement on what is a safe standard that could be applied to all connected devices.

However, Bitdefender Box has reported that the NSA’s attempt to create a standard – in the form of two encryption algorithms – was rejected by the International Organisation of Standardisation (ISO).

The reason being that, after the Edward Snowden leak, the agency has become something of a pariah among the infosec community.

In its decision, the ISO believed that Simon and Speck – the names for the algorithms – could contain encryption backdoors that could be abused by the US government. However, there are no accusations that the NSA has purposefully built such capabilities into the algorithms.

Dr Tomer Ashur, who is involved, with the ISO said of the decision: “If [the NSA] had been more trustworthy, or at least more cooperative, different alliances would have probably been formed.”

Painful blood tests no more with smart sensor

Getting a blood test can be quite distressing for some, but a new smart sensor developed by a team of researchers is a stepping stone towards eliminating the invasive procedure.

Monitoring chronic conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease currently involves drawing blood from the patient’s body, but the same data can also be gathered from sweat.

The researchers’ pH sensor can stretch and flex to fit the contours of users’ bodies and is therefore more comfortable to wear. It consists of a 1cm sq stretchable, wireless system and pH-sensing electrode made from a novel graphite-polyurethane composite.

The engineers’ wireless sensor has an additional advantage. While traditional wireless systems that transmit data via Bluetooth are often bulky and need to be charged often, the new sensor can transmit its data without using external power.

The sensor was developed as part of the EU-funded project Collaborative Network for Training in Electronic Skin Technology (CONTEST).

Developing autonomous cars in a virtual world

You’ve probably seen all those stories about autonomous cars being involved in lethal accidents, sparking fear among the public of the technology’s danger. But what if we could test the cars in a space where no one gets hurt?

That’s what former Apple and Pixar employee Kevin McNamara is hoping to do with his latest start-up called Parallel Domain, recently bolstered by $2.5m in funding.

Speaking with TechCrunch, McNamara explained the concept.

“What we do is use computer graphics to try to accelerate the development of safe autonomous vehicles,” he said.

“The idea being that, in a simulation, you can safely make a mistake and then learn from those mistakes. In a virtual world, you’re not going to hurt anyone in this simulation.”

Using real-world maps and procedurally generated models, the fully programmable model will now be pitched to autonomous car developers to see if they think it might be a safer and cheaper option for now.

Chinese workers in an electronics factory. Image: humphery/Shutterstock

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic